I love Fallout: New Vegas. In my mind, it's the last game in the series that gives me what I want from Fallout. Starting from a great hook—find the man who tried to kill you—New Vegas drops you into the post-apocalyptic American Southwest in the middle of a growing war between several factions. It's full of excellent characters and meaningful choices. It's also buggy as hell.
NPCs float, get caught in the environment, and sometimes see their bodies twists and break into forms that are more indicative of a horror film than a Fallout game. Animations are applied to the wrong models and characters interact with objects that are not there. Players would frequently find themselves getting stuck on objects, forcing them to use developer console commands to free themselves. On Xbox 360, saving too often would see your save getting corrupted.
Some of those issues could be chalked up to a lack of development time and using Bethesda's buggy iteration of the Gamebryo engine, as many of Bethesda's own titles are equally full of bugs. But then there's Alpha Protocol, an espionage RPG developed by Obsidian using Unreal Engine 3. Alpha Protocol's ambition is outstripped by its bugs: necessary characters and items won't load sometimes, skills won't work, and occasionally a death will find you unable to move forward in the game at all. Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol are probably the worst examples of Obsidian launching buggy games, but they're not alone. Even recent titles like Pillars of Eternity and Pillars of Eternity 2 have had their reports of troubles.
So when I booted up The Outer Worlds, I expected to run into the same thing. A great throwback to the first two Fallout games, married to the gameplay of the modern series, with a heaping helping of bugs. What I found instead was a surprisingly unbuggy game, far below the Obsidian norm, and even ahead when compared to triple-A titles from other developers.
I'm not saying that The Outer Worlds is completely without bugs, but over the course of playthrough, very few of them reared their ugly heads. I didn't have any hard crashes, and my saves remained uncorrupted. I never had to jump back to an earlier save because some quest bugged out and I couldn't move forward. Even smaller issues like animation problems or NPCs getting caught in the environment were pretty rare, but I generally shrug many of those off as a commonality in other games.
This bug-free presentation wasn't an accident on Obsidian's part. In a previous interview, The Outer Worlds director Tim Cain told USgamer that the developer was very cognizant of the game's scope. The team actually had a fully playable version of The Outer Worlds for testing much earlier than previous games.
"I don't think we've ever had a game that was fully playable from start to finish so early in development," said Cain earlier this year. He noted that with previous titles he had worked on, including Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, the scope of the game would get so big that bugs and design issues would stay untouched while the team worked on new features. He admitted that his past teams would "let some things go for so long that eventually the game ships those bugs, and nobody wants that."
The Outer Worlds is a much smaller game than some fans might expect. Its quests are dense, but its maps are relatively small and focused, compared to a sprawling open-world adventure like Assassin's Creed Odyssey. While many of Obsidian's past games are wildly ambitious and simultaneously full of bugs, The Outer Worlds is the opposite. It's familiar RPG systems, but done very well and polished to a high sheen.
"I'll put everything in a game and the kitchen sink, so I think we've done a lot better at scope control on this game," Cain told us back in March.
That works for The Outer Worlds, playing against the expectations that players and critics have for Obsidian Entertainment. In my review, I admit that I wish the game expanded on its genre a little more, but perhaps it's best to put this small, confident step forward first. Sometimes it's better to keep your scope manageable and have a firm grasp of what you can actually tackle.
And Obsidian Entertainment is now in a place to have the resources to do something more innovative. The Outer Worlds doing very well critically, and Bethesda's stumbles with Fallout 76 as of late is consequently pushing more eyes toward Obsidian's tidy RPG, which lacks the online play, microtransactions, or DLC we've come to expect from the modern era of gaming. And Obsidian is now a part of Microsoft, potentially giving its creators more resources. That's possibly a double-edged sword, but I prefer to think positively about it for the time being.
Here's hoping that relatively bug-free The Outer Worlds is the beginning of a new Obsidian, an RPG developer that remembers what RPGs are really about and firmly steps into the space that has been left empty by BioWare.